Stranger Things Season 3 finally landed on Netflix on July 4. With eight new episodes, fans were able to return to Hawkins, Indiana for a whole new adventure. Season 3 ended with some big questions left to answer — ones that will have to be addressed when Stranger Things inevitably returns. But given how much this show loves a good pop culture reference, we may be able to predict what’s next for the gang based on the movies that could be referenced in Season 4.
Season 3 was set in the summer of 1985, and Stranger Things had lots of fun throwing in references to movies from that year like Back to the Future, National Lampoon’s Vacation, Day of the Dead, and even The Terminator (among many, many others). Some of those movies even had a direct influence on the plot. So with Season 4 expected to take place a year later in 1986, a quick scan of the biggest and best movies released that year could reveal some potential plot spoilers for the upcoming episodes.
On that note, here are five movies from 1986 that be referenced in Stranger Things Season 4 — and what it might mean for the plot.
Warning: Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things Season 3.
5. Blue Velvet
What’s really been going in on Hawkins for years — even going back to the early MKUltra experiments of the late ‘70s at Hawkins Lab — has very strong Blue Velvet vibes to it. Directed by David Lynch and released in October 1986, Blue Velvet tells the story of a suburban teenager, Jeffrey (Kyle McLachlan), who finds an ear in a field in his town. Upon further investigation, he quickly becomes involved with the local mafia and a lounge singer desperate to get her child back. Stranger Things definitely won’t match Blue Velvet’s surreal plot in its entirety, but the theme of secrets exposed and things being revealed as more dangerous than previously thought certainly tie into the hit Netflix series.
It’s a genuine shock that Hawkins residents outside of the key characters haven’t begun to question what’s going on in their town. The Season 3 finale involved a huge battle in the newly-built Starcourt Mall and suddenly, as far as the rest of Hawkins knew, the U.S. military was swarming the area. What gives?
There was a hint at the truth about what’s really been going on in Hawkins over the last two years was finally coming out. In the final scenes of Season 3, a commercial for the news program Cutting Edge was shown all about the upcoming special titled “Horror in the Heartland.” Much like Murray Bauman’s Season 2 expose about Hawkins Lab, which forced it to shut down and run Dr. Owens (Paul Reiser) out of town, it looks like the Cutting Edge episode is poised to do the same.
What that means for Season 4 remains unclear, just don’t be too surprised if someone finds an ear in Stranger Things next year.
Saving someone from a strange world they’ve never been in before with a limited amount of time on the clock: Labyrinth or Stranger Things Season 4?
With a Neverending Story reference already included during a key moment in Season 3, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Duffer brothers harvest from another popular kid’s film — namely 1986’s hit film, Labyrinth. Starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly, this is a film rich with fantasy elements and a very big ‘80s song (the iconic “Magic Dance” performed by Bowie in the film), which you could easily see Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and his girlfriend from camp, Suzie, duetting in Season 4.
The idea of rescuing a loved one in Labyrinth, which involves Sarah (Connelly) rescuing her baby brother from the Goblin King, Jareth (Bowie), could become a key pop culture reference point or source of story inspiration in Stranger Things Season 4. With series questions looming about whether Hopper is alive or dead, it’s possible Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) could team up to save him.
Of course, if Hopper (David Harbour) is alive and in the hands of the Russians (as the post-credits scene in season 3 suggests), that means Eleven and Joyce will be going to strange places they’ve never been. Hopefully, they’ll have seen Labyrinth before their adventure and can pull from it accordingly.
3. Top Gun
Top Gun was arguably the biggest movie of 1986. Directed by Tony Scott and starring Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards, Top Gun is fearless masculinity painted red, white, and blue in movie form. Starring Cruise as the hotshot Navy pilot Maverick, Top Gun follows the highs and lows of his time during training.
Now, there are no blatant connections between a straight-shooting action flick like Top Gun and the sci-fi-heavy Stranger Things — until you remember Steve Harrington exists. Cruise’s biggest ‘80s movie could provide clues about Steve’s arc and the heroics he’ll need to put to good use in Season 4. Could Steve end up flying a plane? Maybe take part in a steamy game of volleyball? Who knows!
More importantly, Top Gun is a reminder Steve’s movie tastes have already been revealed to be deeply populist, which means he could start dressing and acting like Maverick in Season 4. Great for sight gags and even better if Steve decides he needs to have #BigMaverickEnergy to get the jobs done. Add to this the fact that Steve and series newbie Robin (played by Maya Hawke) now work at Family Video, a place teeming with films like Top Gun that could provide clues about how these two tackle whatever problem comes their way. It definitely feels like this Stranger Things pair will be set up for success in Season 4, especially with Top Gun available to channel.
2. The Fly
Stranger Things has credited David Cronenberg’s Scanners as a pop culture influence on Season 3. Considering this, it’s possible the series returns to Cronenberg’s oeuvre and mines his 1986 film The Fly, starring Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, for inspiration.
The Fly’s story begins with scientist Seth Brundle (Goldblum) attempting to use his new invention, a set of teleportation pods, to successfully transmit an object from one place to another. Things go extremely and disgustingly sideways very quickly for Seth, but we don’t need to get into that. What’s key here is that The Fly’s story could provide some clues about Stranger Things Season 4, especially when it comes to Hopper’s fate.
As previously mentioned, the Season 3 finale left Hopper’s fate up in the air. If he did survive the blast from the Russians’ machine meant to open the gate to the Upside Down, it could be revealed the machine has the ability to teleport. The Russians might have accidentally created another use for their Upside Down machine and sent Hopper back to Russia. On a show where a young girl can crush Coca-Cola cans with her mind, introducing the concept of accidental teleportation hardly seems outrageous.
We never saw Hopper’s body, right? How can we assume definitively that he’s dead? The Russians might have accidentally created another use for their Upside Down machine, which sent Hopper back to Russia. On a show where a young girl can crush Coca-Cola cans with her mind, introducing the concept of accidental teleportation hardly seems outrageous. We never saw Hopper’s body, right? How can we definitively assume he’s dead?
Fingers crossed that if Stranger Things does crib from The Fly for story inspiration, especially when it comes to Hopper, they choose to ignore what happened to Seth when they reveal where Hopper teleported.
Aliens is the second film in the Alien franchise and it’s a film which could provide big hints about the military’s likely involvement in Season 4 as well as the character development for Joyce, Eleven, and possibly even Max (Sadie Sink).
Directed by James Cameron and starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Stranger Things’ own Paul Reiser, Aliens continues series protagonist Ellen Ripley’s (Weaver) story as she fights against alien race the Xenomorphs. Ripley is brought back into the fight when her escape pod from Alien crash lands on the moon LV-246’s space colony where a group of Marines are based. When the Xenomorphs come on the scene, Ripley is the only one with enough knowledge about how they operate to help the Marines fight them.
Bringing in Dr. Owens, who is now associated with the FBI, late in Season 3 means he will no doubt resurface in Season 4. Yes, it’ll be a nice in-joke to have Owens reference Aliens or be involved in a nod to the film. But Owens being alerted to Russian plans on re-opening the gate means the U.S. government will be alerted to them too. This, in turn, means Season 4 could include government and/or military involvement in the fight to close the Upside Down permanently.
Much like Ripley in Aliens, Joyce and Eleven have precise knowledge about the Upside Down after traveling to the world and interacting with its creatures. They’re an invaluable asset to Owens and the government. It’s very possible, again just like in Aliens, Joyce and Eleven are called upon for their knowledge and to lead the fight against both the Upside Down and the Russians in the final season of Stranger Things.
Finally, here’s a quick list of other classic movies from 1986 that could influence Stranger Things Season 4 but didn’t make it into our top five ranking:
- Stand By Me (Stranger Things has been aping this classic story since Season 1.)
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (Just imagine Steve Harington singing “Twist and Shout.”)
- Highlander (Someone’s gotta say, “There can only be one.” Right?)
- Little Shop of Horrors (Stranger Things could actually explain where that evil Venus flytrap really came from.)
- Poltergeist II: The Other Side (The original Poltergiest got a nod in Stranger Things. So why not the poorly reviewed sequel?)
Stranger Things Season 3 is available to stream now on Netflix.